Tag Archives: higher education

Sustainability in Higher Education

Occasionally we create a special collection on EarthSayers.tv because a particular person, organization or event inspires us.

asshe4blogIn the case of the newly created, all video collection, Sustainability in Higher Education, the inspiration was the 2014 Annual Conference of the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) held here in Portland, Oregon, the last week in October.  The video interviews we conducted at the conference form the basis for this special collection and were combined with other speakers from previous AASHE conferences as will future conference video content.  Over 2,000 faculty and students attended this year putting to rest the idea that sustainability is a passing fad.  An even higher attendance rate is expected next Fall in Minneapolis, Minnesota where the best of campus sustainability practices will be in the spotlight along with thought leaders, student advocates, and faculty members.

At this year’s conference we video interviewed Stephanie Herrera, AASHE Executive Director; Annie Leonard of the Story of Stuff Project and Executive Director of Greenpeace, USA; Marcelo Bonta, founder of the Center for Diversity & the Environment; and eco-artist and activist, Amy Livingstone of Sacred Arts Studio.

Stephanie of AASHEThe major challenge for organizations to integrate planet, people, and prosperity elements into a cohesive strategy that is then reflected in tactics such as programs, products, and services is one AASHE is facing head on.  Stephanie Herrera called it out as major emphasis of AASHE’s  intention to encompass not just the environmental, but the social justice and financial elements of sustainability.  Having grown up on a Superfund hazard site located in the Denver neighborhood of Globeville, Ms. Herrera continues to be engaged with the struggles of impoverished communities and their efforts to address their health and economic issues. It’s a perspective she brings to her work at AASHE and a challenge reiterated by keynoter Marcelo Bonta in his very personal story of how he came to create the Center for Diversity & the Environment. Their Mission is to racially & ethnically diversify the U.S. environmental movement by developing leaders, diversifying institutions and building communities.

Annie Leonard directed our attention to our under-developed citizen muscle and an economic model emphasizing unrestrained growth and over consumption resulting in an Citizen Muscle Logo copyover-developed consumer muscle.  “There is a better way to live on this planet in a more sustainable, more healthy, just, and way more fun way” she advises and the solution lies in exercising our citizen muscle and moving towards an economic model that reflects values of empathy, respect, and collaboration.  She adds: “It is important to seeking a better life for us all that we believe that things can get better.”

We noticed that many students and faculty were wrestling with the issue of integrating sustainability throughout the curriculum in an environment of disciplines and departments. They talked about a significant amount of fence jumping, mountain climbing, and intense paddling up rocky rivers along with reports of “engineering” programs to build bridges and, on the very practical side, achieve environmental objectiAquinas-College-squareves such as zero waste. In one workshop I attended I was paired off with Dr. David Weinandy of Aquinas College where here he teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in Communication and Management. His colleague Jessica Eimer is the Director of Sustainability. David talked about sustainability being the “essence of our college identity.”  Their Faculty Sustainability Fellows Program, open to all faculty members, consciously implements sustainability throughout the curriculum. It’s not limited to any one discipline, but is interdisciplinary. Incentives include a small stipend, educational opportunities, and a mode to discuss their projects with the greater campus community.

Next year we are hoping to be able to interview more of the faculty and students who, like Professor Weinandy and his colleagues at Aquinas, are teaching us all how to better weave sustainability into the fabric of organizations to increase awareness and adoption, especially among and for our youth and their children and grandchildren.

Ruth Ann Barrett, Sustainability Advocate, December 15, 2014, Portland, Oregon.

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Sustainability: Challenges and Risks

“Ideally, however, no institutions in modern society are better situated and none more obliged to facilitate the transition to a sustainable future than colleges and universities…”

This quote is from David Orr’s book, The Nature of Design: Ecology, Culture, and Human Intention. He is the Paul Sears Distinguished Professor of Environmental Studies and Politics at Oberlin College and is also a James Marsh Professor at large at the University of Vermont.  What caught my attention in this book was Dr. Orr’s question that followed the above statement :

“What would it mean for educational institutions to meet this challenge?”

Sustainability advocates working throughout the system might find his observations in terms of higher education applicable to other institutions. Here is his summary of the needs and risks with a few of my off-side comments in parenthesis.

– Dialogue
For one thing it would mean fostering in every possible way a broad and ongoing dialogue about concentrated economic power and the changes that will be necessary to build a sustainable economy.

(Nearly everyone I talk with cites “silos” as a major barrier to dialogue, collaboration, and the cross fertilization of ideas. In Universities they are called departments. Non-profits can be special interest silos.  In business silos are formed around functions e.g. marketing or business units or even geographies.

I know of no safe way to conduct that conversation that would not threaten the comfortable or risk losing some of the institution’s financial support, a sensitive topic when the average cost of college education is becoming prohibitively expensive.

(This should sound familiar to folks in non-profits, organizations relying on advertisers, politicians, political parties…)

– Systemic Thinking
Furthermore, colleges and universities ought to equip students, by every means possible, to think systematically, rationally, and, yes, emotionally about long term technological choices and how such decisions should be made.

(Here “students” can be expanded to include customers, employees, shareholders, partners.)


That discussion, too, would raise contentious issues having to do with the meaning of progress and economic growth. And it would implicitly challenge the unbrideled freedom of inquiry, if the extreme exercise of that freedom undermines biological order, democratic institutions, and social sustainability that give rise to it in the first place. Issues of “who gains and who loses” from unrestricted inquiry will press heavily on the university and cannot be dodged much longer.

(I haven’t heard any one discuss the unbrideled freedom of inquiry and extreme exercise of that freedom which undermines biological order, but my guess is that GMO and the patenting of seeds might fall into this category.)

Finally the cynical view, pawned off as “objective” social science, that humans are only self-maximizers must be revealed for what it is: half-truth in service to the economy of greed. Increasingly the young know that their inheritance is being spent carelessly and sometimes fraudulently…

(Think economics and the free market then read Raj Patel’s book, The Value of Nothing and give a listen to Raj on EarthSayers.tv, the voices of sustainability.

What they may not know is where we, their teachers, mentors, and role models stand or what we stand for.

(This is where we have focused our efforts by creating EarthSayers.tv, the voices of sustainability: the unfiltered voices.  It’s time for leaders to step up to the plate and give voice to their views.)